As a parent, one of the most important (and one of the hardest) things you have to teach children is how to share. It is not an innate ability, but unless children learn to share they have pretty miserable lives – taking turns and co-operation are the foundation of play and any social activity. We are not designed to exist in isolation so we need to share. In my house – which I live in with three boisterous young boys – sharing is essential. Fights break out over the computer, the TV, food, toys, money, who is getting the most attention – you name it. The only way to stop total chaos from descending is to make them share and take turns. It is not always fun being the enforcer but it is necessary. We may not always want to share our things, but life is a lot more pleasant if we do.
I see sharing as important and very much enjoyed an article I read today by none other than Professor Stephen Hawking.
Hawking’s thesis is that Brexit took place because certain individuals hoard their wealth, rather than sharing it out to benefit the population at large. We have been encouraged to see wealth in purely individual terms and not think that one person’s gain could be another person’s loss. Hawking feels that we need to learn again how to divide our riches in a way that benefits society at large.
As he explains:
If we fail then the forces that contributed to Brexit, the envy and isolationism not just in the UK but around the world that spring from not sharing, of cultures driven by a narrow definition of wealth and a failure to divide it more fairly, both within nations and across national borders, will strengthen. If that were to happen, I would not be optimistic about the long-term outlook for our species.
I found this especially interesting as his words echoed a conversation I was having with an old school friend in the pub last night. I have known this woman since we were teenagers who used to hang around parks getting up to no good. We grew up in the same suburb and strangely now both live in Kentish Town.
As ever I was talking about politics. Do I ever really talk about anything else? Well there is a side of me that likes a good gossip and talks about boys and make-up – we talked about these subjects as well. I hadn’t seen my friend since Brexit and surprised her by telling her that I would be voting for Corbyn in the upcoming Labour leadership elections – I was very pro Burnham last summer. I explained how I felt the country needed something more radical and how the type of policies espoused by the centre left (possibly my natural home) were not enough. I also said how I felt we needed to pay a little more tax – a couple of pence on the basic rate to fund housing, infra-structure projects and free university education. Hardly radical socialism; I also pointed out to her that the ‘dangerous’ policies espoused by Corbyn and McDonnell would have been seen as normal by politicians like Harold Macmillan or Ted Heath.
My friend disagreed. She said she felt the problem was more widespread tax evasion by corporations and the failure of HMRC to get tough on them. She asked me if I had read Treasure Islands. I said I had, and agreed that it was a very good book. I remember reading it about five years and finding it quite horrifying. Now its revelations just feel like common knowledge.
I also think it is interesting to see how the once ‘dangerously left-wing’ arguments put across by writers like Richard Murphy (and also groups like UK Uncut and Occupy) are interpreted by people like my friend, who I would probably describe as a swing voter. She is liberal but not especially left wing. She is a very intelligent person but not obsessively political and I think has a more forgiving attitude towards business and the free market than I do. My attitudes are conflicted; hers more laissez faire. I genuinely think we all need to share out our wealth to benefit the disadvantaged – not just because this is the right thing to do, but because the consequences of not sharing are potentially disastrous. Both my friend and I have benefitted from being born into relative affluence and also from living in London, where opportunities are plentiful and the property market has been booming for many years. It is time to share out our good fortune. Yes, big business bends the rules and takes the piss when it comes to tax, but I think we are all part of the story – because the dice has been loaded to make us affluent, other people have lost out. If there is one lesson we can learn from Brexit, it is that none of us lives in isolation from each other, however much we might like this to be the case.
My friend sees things differently and finds what she calls my ‘mea culpa’ attitude a bit silly. That’s her prerogative – her views have a context and a logic of their own. What is most important is that we are all talking about these subjects in the pub, at work, on street corners and in our kitchens. It’s important that Stephen Hawking is talking about it. Even Theresa May is talking about the question of inequality and its toxic effect on society. The days when it could be swept under the carpet have long gone. We need to learn to share again.